This past weekend my husband and I stopped by Target to pick up a few items. As we walked past a store display of batteries, he remembered we needed a 9 volt battery for our laser level. We’d been hanging shelves in our son’s room, and the laser level died on us just as we finished. When he saw the price, he felt like it was too high, so he pulled out his phone, opened the Amazon app, and checked if their price was better. It was, so he ordered the batteries. And because we’re Prime members, the batteries arrived two days later.

This story is an example of the digital world meeting the non-digital world. For those of us in marketing, it’s considered a cross-channel experience. Target is well aware of this phenomenon, and they have an app that lets you purchase products as well. So why didn’t we use the Target app? Because in our non-digital world, Target is easier than Amazon. But in our digital world, Amazon rules. Here’s why:

  • Target is less than a mile from our house. It’s very easy to jump in the car and drive up there. The store is bright and fun, so our three-year-old son likes to go there and usually behaves. Easy and fun. Great experience.
  • Amazon is our go-to store for anything we don’t need right away. It’s been a part of our lives for a long time. I was in the Amazon Mom program and had subscription service to diapers, wipes, and diaper pail liners. We do our Christmas shopping on the site because we have many out-of-state relatives, and it’s easier to ship from Amazon directly to them rather than shop at a mall and have to deal with shipping ourselves. Our son watches too many episodes of Blues Clues through the Prime video service (which means we don’t have to buy $100 worth of Blues Clues DVDs). Amazon makes our lives easier on a daily basis. Another great experience.

Now consider the context for our battery purchase. The price seemed a bit high. We didn’t need the batteries right away, so we were cool with shopping for a better price online. The Amazon app was already installed, so there was no barrier to checking a price quickly. Ironically, my husband also had the Target app installed, but because he doesn’t use it as often as Amazon, he wasn’t sure if his billing and shipping info was entered. And he figured the price in the Target app would be the same as the store price anyway. Amazon won hands down because it was fast, cheap, and easy.

Amazon is a service, not just a retailer.

This article is not to say that Amazon is better than Target. After we bought the batteries from Amazon, we continued to spend another 30 minutes in Target buying several items - many we hadn’t planned to buy before arriving at the store. And when we need an item right away, I often check Target’s website for the inventory available at my local store. So Target won just as big as Amazon that day and plenty of days before.

Instead, I’m highlighting a bigger point. We must design for the holistic experience. If a client says, “I need a website,” my first question is always something like, “How does this website fit into your overall business strategy?” It’s not enough to build a pretty website. We have to understand the full user journey - how will users encounter the website? What will they do before they get there and after they leave? What does the business want them to do? How will the business support whatever actions the user takes on the website? And so on.

Before we ever stepped into Target that day, Amazon had a hold on our digital world. We already had the app, were Prime members, and Amazon already knew all of our shipping and billing information. We walked into Target already “primed” (sorry) to use Amazon. Actually, we walk everywhere primed to use Amazon because they are more than just a website or an app. They are a complete service to us.

In his article “Service Design: Pushing Us Beyond the Familiar,” Jared Spool sums up this design problem nicely. He writes:

"We’re no longer in a world when we can design for just a single isolated online interaction, not thinking about what happened before that interaction or what happens after. And, we’re no longer in a world where we believe that every before-interaction and every after-interaction only happened online. We’re now in a world where digital and non-digital are merging. And we need to be prepared to design in that overall experience.”

How do you design for the digital and non-digital? How do you design for service?

It starts with research, strategy, and planning.

Often there are many teams working on different aspects of a company’s strategy, from web to social to mobile apps to print and beyond. It’s important to have an overarching strategy that considers how all of these touch points work together to create a cohesive experience. Users don’t think in terms of app versus website versus magazine ad. To them, all are just your brand. Having a strong, holistic strategy ensures you’re telling the same story in all these different places.

At Launch, we use activities such as experience maps,  journey mapping, user interviews, ethnographic studies (e.g., shop alongs, observation), and more to try and understand all the ways a user might interact with a brand. These activities help us to see what touch points users will interact with and when or why. Based on our learnings from these activities, we develop (with the client) a plan of attack that can be shared with the whole team, so everyone is on the same page about what’s needed to create a connected experience.

Final thoughts

Maybe you’re not in a place where you have the money and time to create a detailed, holistic strategy for your brand. And even the best strategies don’t automatically guarantee success. They take refining over time based on what you learn from your customers. Don’t have time for that level of strategic work? That’s OK. The first step is to change your mindset so that whenever you design an experience you’re thinking about what other experiences (existing or yet to be created) could connect to the new experience you’re building.

Don’t create awesome, disjointed experiences for your brand. Let us help you create a complete story, a holistic approach, to what your brand has to offer. Be more than an isolated website to your customers.